The Challenges of Being a Carer

Being a carer has it’s challenges. I’m sure there are some carers who encounter tougher challenges than me on a daily basis. Those people have my utmost respect and admiration. The following is the opinions and views of one carer. It is not intended to apply to every person’s situation, because every carer knows our situations are all different.

Over the past few days, we have been experiencing a heatwave in the UK. July 19th was the hottest day of the year. Many areas are experiencing cooler weather today, but the mercury is still high in others (such as mine).

Carer Heatwave
Summer can be beautiful but not all of us get a chance to appreciate it.

As a carer for a housebound relative, heatwaves are always unpleasant situations. The windows are open, the fans are going, yet there seems no relent from the humidity and heat. Therefore, we carers must be proactive in attending to those we care about and ourselves. I’m not really offering this as advice, but more just my own perspective on the challenges a heatwave poses for me. It is, however, my hope that among my witterings there may be something that helps somebody.

The Importance of Fluids

The older a person is, the more danger a heatwave poses. I’m not sure of the science behind this, but there are some studies that have shown our sense of thirst reduces as we age. This probably explains why hospital admissions are highest amongst the elderly during bouts of hot weather.

As the person I care for requires me to get her drinks, I have been keeping tabs on her fluid intake as and when I’ve gone to get myself another drink. In order to not come across as a bossy, nagging cowbag, I have taken to getting her bottle of water, lemonade etc. from the fridge and asking if she wants a top-up, even if I can see her glass is nearly full. The appeal of a fresh, cold drink is generally enough to remind her to drink up.

Carer Heatwave Drink
On average, an adult female should consume 2.2 litres of water per day. In hot weather, this increases.

I’ve also taken to dropping ice-cubes into her drink every thirty minutes or so. Once again, this serves as a gentle, non-naggy reminder for her to drink up.

All that said, on occasion, I have broken out the strict-stick (metaphor!) and been more forceful in urging her to drink. I’m sure she does not appreciate being bossed around by her daughter, and audibly grumbles about it, but my job is to ensure her health. If necessary, I will be a little madam about it!

Food Is Important Too, For Both of You

As a carer, I have to look after myself too. My mother would be in a terrible state without me! Again, I’m not sure of the science behind this but heatwaves effect appetites. I believe it’s something to do with metabolism and body heat regulation. Unfortunately, it can become very easy to forget to eat entirely during hot weather. If you know in advance that a heatwave is coming, I find that it’s a good idea to stock up on fruit, salad ingredients and other foods that can be eaten cold. I personally quite enjoy breakfast cereals like Fruit & Fibre during hot weather – although I’m aware that’s full of sugar!

Carer Salad
Good summer food!

If the heatwave takes you by surprise though, and you don’t have much in that can be eaten cold, as unappetising as it may be you still need to eat. Quick meals are often good options here, as you’re not going to make it hotter by having the oven on! I tend to go for beans or spaghetti on toast, myself. Beans on toast is good because the beans count as one of your five a day, and you’ll also be getting some salt and fibre. Remember, although too much salt is obviously bad for you, some salt is needed to replace your electrolytes that you lose through sweat.

And, of course, the person you care for also needs to eat – even if they claim they’re not hungry! Light meals with a little more frequency than normal, or snacks such as fruit should be offered. In my mum’s case, I play on her politeness. If I ask her outright, she’ll say “I’m not that hungry” but if I actually prepare and offer her food she’ll eat it to just be polite! Whatever it takes!

Sleep! Oh How I Miss Thee!

If you’re anything like me, heatwaves are the worst for getting enough sleep. I struggle to get an adequate amount of sleep as it is. I’m finely-tuned to wake at the slightest noise in case my mum needs help. It’s so bad that I can’t even have a fan running during the night because it will keep me awake!

But of course, without enough sleep, we are diminished both physically and mentally. Just this morning, while preparing my mother’s morning drink I made her the wrong drink because my mind was not functioning properly. Fortunately, it was something she was happy to drink anyway but such mistakes are easily made when the brain is tired.

Carer Rest
These puppies have got the right idea!

Therefore, even if you’re struggling to sleep, make sure you’re taking the time to rest. Rest doesn’t have to be sleep. It can be something as simple as taking thirty minutes to yourself and monging out in front of the TV. You could also have a cool bath. Or even take the dog for a walk! Our brain appreciates moments of relaxation as much as we do. Every moment it can disengage is a moment it can re-focus on the important things.

Most Importantly, Ask Questions

This is the most important advice I can offer. Ask the person you care for questions, frequently. “Are you okay?”, “Can I get you something?” etc. I never rely on my mother to tell me if there’s something wrong. She’s an incredibly stubborn woman who would quite happily try and cover-up a broken leg so as not to cause a fuss! Therefore, I ask her questions. I ask her if she’s alright, and I note her responses. I’m looking for changes in the tone, manner, or wording of those responses that would indicate there’s a problem.

If I’m keeping her engaged and occupied, then it’s easier to detemine if there is a potential emergency that requires attention. We know the people we care for, and we know what to look for.

To everyone who is a carer, I hope that this heatwave passes without incident. You have my appreciation and admiration for everything you do.

If you’re new to caring or looking for support, you may find Carers UK useful.